Philippe Malouin

by Nigel Zeff

Playful Handsomeness Galvanizes This Designer’s Functionality
According to industrial designer Philippe Malouin, it is a “quite nice and bright and snowy” morning in the ski hills of Montréal where he’s spending a few days before giving a talk at the Interior Design Show in Toronto. We are meeting for the first time via Skype. He tells me that it’s freezing—minus 20 degrees to be exact—but with his black long-sleeved shirt and thick, dark beard, he seems native to such a climate. His rugged good looks are striking, and when coupled with his handsome gestures it becomes clear how he entered the door of fashion modeling, having recently walked the runway for Prada menswear.

Malouin was born in Montréal but is now based in London after having graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. He also attended Concordia University for Design Art and studied Industrial Design at the Université de Montréal, and had a stint interning with the English designer Tom Dixon, while working in collaboration with Hermès. He is, without a doubt, one of the contemporary design’s biggest rising talents. His studio, which keeps a small staff of five, works on diverse projects utilizing a wide variation of processes, materials, and outcomes—including the exploration of production methods that don’t yet exist. He explains, “I don’t tend to admire overly designed items. I don’t think they age very well.”

This, of course, is very revealing of Malouin and his creative process, which champions discovery and experimentation along the way—often resulting in deceptively simple objects: “I think we need to make some kind of discovery. I design at the end of the creative process rather than at the beginning. The process sometimes dictates shape, and then refinement happens after.”

The work produced by Malouin’s studio—such as Gridlock, 1:4 bowls, Yachiyo metal rug, and Hanger chairs—echo elements of the geometric preciseness, longevity, and structural nature of Brutalist architecture, minimalist fine art, and the straightforward functionality of modernist design. “It’s very cliché,” Malouin reveals, “but Charles and Ray Eames have to be the biggest source of inspiration, not only for their design aesthetic, which was perfect, but more so because of their ability to work cross-platform.” It is easy to see this connection in Malouin’s natural tendency to balance playful humor with serious functionality and geometric perfection in his work—and even pushing the notion of geometric perfection into new territory.

“I’m not interested in reviving crafts necessarily, but I’m also extremely interested in the value of hand-production and creating things that appear to be perfect but are impossible to manufacture by machine.” He may be referring to his Yachiyo rug, which took 3,000 hours to be made by hand from galvanized steel wire rings in a Japanese chain mail technique. For this revolutionary process, Malouin won Wallpaper’s Best Use of Material Award in 2012. Although his natural fascination with innovative materials and processes is a guiding principle through his diverse portfolio, he describes the way in which he is already moving towards new territory—that of exploring his approach to making mass-produced objects. “I like when both laborious intensity and mass production exist together. I don’t think they need to be exclusive, and I think that’s when you get interesting mass-produced material.”

As for what the future holds, Malouin doesn’t want to have too much of a plan. “I like evolving in an organic way. I don’t like pushing how things are going. I’m lucky enough that people come to me and ask me to do things, and I get to pick and choose what I find interesting. I guess I’d like my future to be similar to the way things are—I have a small studio and we have a lot of fun.”

Photographer: Haruki Horikawa at Harukihorikawa.com.

Stylist: Eunice Jera Lee at Eunicejeralee.com